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Archive for Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Double Take: Get a fresh start on school-year friendships

August 18, 2009

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Wes: This week we welcome Lawrence High School senior Samantha Schwartz to “Double Take.” Samantha comes with some unique experience. Not only has she written for the LHS Budget, but she’s also served on the Love Docs team. These are high school students who go out to junior highs and field questions on relationships and intimacy. As readers of this column already know, I’m a big believer in the vital importance of teenagers practicing these communication skills well before they set out on their transition to adulthood. Thus Samantha and her Love Docs team are after my own clinical heart, and I applaud their efforts. Like Kelly Kelin, Samantha was also a participant in the Secret Life of Girls project at the Lawrence Arts Center in 2007. A lot is expected of “Double Take” columnists, and it is my belief that Samantha will bring energy, wisdom and talent to its pages. As is our tradition, we turn the first topic selection over to our newest co-author.

Samantha: I am so excited to begin this column and this school year. I hope I can get the root of every question and reach not only the asker, but everyone else with similar issues. I may not have all the answers, but I promise to get as close as I can by using what I’ve gained through the experiences of my family, my friends, my peers and myself.

Seeing all the incoming sophomores wandering around LHS reminds me of my days as the new kid. I’ve been the new kid more times than Britney Spears has dyed her hair. Over 12 years of schooling (including kindergarten), I’ve been to seven schools in three states. Because I’ve moved so much, I have learned to adapt and make friends in any environment. Don’t get me wrong — wishing someone would sit by me, following awkwardly behind the crowd, pretending to have a phone call so I don’t look alone — I have done it all. But that isolated feeling doesn’t have to last beyond the first day.

Whether you are the new kid or you just want to make new friends, introducing yourself to people can be nerve-wracking. You have to wonder, does my outfit look as cute as my mom said it did? Is he related to my history teacher and thinks my joke about her was totally offensive? You can’t control how people perceive you, but you can put out your best signals.

Here are five tips to making new friends (and keeping them):

• Join an activity that involves students of different grade levels, like a sport or a drama program. You’ll feel more a part of the school if you know both upper- and underclassmen.

• If you meet someone in a class that you would like to be friends with, start by inviting them to something low-key, like bowling in a group or studying after school. That way, you both can see if you’d like to pursue the friendship without too much of a commitment.

• Alternate between buying and bringing your lunch to meet everyone who has your lunch period. The couple minutes you spend chatting with someone in the lunch line or at your table waiting for the lunch line kids to get back is a good time to make individual connections.

The time you have alone with the one person at a table who brings a sack lunch could build a friendship.

• When someone is telling a story about people you don’t know, listen intently and laugh genuinely. If you can relate the story to something in your life that is funny and relevant, feel free to chime in. If not, it’s OK to be an appreciative audience and a good listener.

• If someone invites you over, wait a few days and return the favor. As a general rule, try to go back and forth inviting each other until you become so close that it doesn’t seem to matter.

Whether you’re the new kid or the veteran of your school, it’s never too late to build new friendships.

Wes: Good advice from a young woman who has had more than her share of first days at school. Too often the value of making new friends is caught up in the idea of being popular. As I’ve said before, popularity is the most overrated talent I’ve seen in teenagers and even adults. I realize that the need to be with the in crowd seems encoded into teenage DNA. To be seen with the right people in the right place doing the right things seems to be the core survival skill in the jungle of junior and senior high school. But what Sam suggests — spending energy trying to make real connections with real people — can offer teens a more rewarding high school experience. It may even create friendships that last a lifetime.

The better talent to hone and perfect is to be likable: interesting, thoughtful, willing to listen, genuine, honest. Even better is to become what I refer to as being “noticing” — to actually spend time focused on what is interesting and likable in others and to reflect that back to them in subtle ways. This may sound all new age and California, but if you take a moment and look at the kids (and adults) we all really like, you’ll find this quality is nearly always present. You’ll also find that they do this so effectively that it doesn’t look ingratiating. Their goal isn’t to sell you something or persuade you to their way of thinking. It’s to make a connection. If you develop those same skills you’ll be more likely to find others who reflect them back to you. While the first day at school may seem a lonely place, there are far more people waiting to reach out than you may think.

Next week: Should I tell my parents I’m gay? We reveal the second essay from the Spring 2009 contest.

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